Tax time is an annual, mandatory occurrence that requires time, but does not necessarily require money. Whether you end up owing the government money or receive a check after you file, why pay more than necessary to actually file? There are many options, with a range of support available, ranging from handling the paperwork yourself to paying professional tax preparers to fill everything out for you.
The services vary widely depending on the provider and other factors. Like other financial decisions, it is important to weigh your options and make an informed decision at tax time.
IRS Free File allows for a no-cost federal return if your household's 2013 adjusted gross income was $58,000 or less. You can file using their online fillable forms or using brand-name tax software. To do the latter, you must select a service provider to file through (your options are outlined in the Free File section of the IRS website). Depending on which state you live in, you may need to pay for your state return. Some of the participating "e-file partner" companies do provide free state returns; check the company's website for details.
Regardless of whether you meet the $58,000 limit, there are still many free federal filing options from many of the same providers. 1040EZ forms are offered for free preparation and filing by e-Smart Tax and TaxSlayer. TaxACT has a variety of IRS tax forms and schedules for free preparation and filing. Basic IRS forms can be prepared and filed for free with TurboTax, which will import W-2 information, so tax filing requires less time to complete. State returns may have a fee to file with these providers, and adding more complex federal forms can bring additional costs to what began as a free federal return.
Depending on your age, income and military affiliation, you may also be eligible to receive tax assistance. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is available to help people who meet the $52,000 or less threshold. They'll receive free basic income tax help with their electronic filing return from nearby IRS-certified volunteers.
People 60 years old and above can also enjoy assistance from IRS-certified volunteers in their community who can also help with issues related to pension and retirement through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program. Active duty members of the military can use TaxSlayer's free federal version.
Whatever method you choose, make sure to file before the April 15 tax deadline. That way, you'll avoid potential fees if you owe money, and if you're owed a refund, you'll get it sooner.
Jon Lal is the founder of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 3,000 stores.
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